By Samantha Wilcoxson
The young son of George of Clarence is not often mentioned, but, when he is, it is often as a pitiful aside in the drama of Perkin Warbeck. Opinions on Edward vary, some believing he was mentally disabled and others taking the same evidence to indicate that he was simply as uneducated and unsophisticated as anyone would be who had spent their formative years within the walls of the Tower of London. He was executed because he was seen as a threat to the Tudor throne, but was he?
Edward was executed in 1499 because he had allegedly conspired with Perkin Warbeck to escape the Tower. It is not farfetched to believe that Henry VII set the pair up by providing them with guards who were amiable to their goals and gave them false hope. Whether they really did plot or Henry wanted everyone to believe they did, both were put to death in order to clear the way for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon.
Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Katherine’s parents, clearly saw Edward as a threat based upon their insistence on his removal. Henry was undoubtedly reluctant to execute his wife’s cousin when she had already lost so many to the Wars of the Roses, but, in the end, he decided that the favorable match was worth the loss of one more Plantagenet son. Maybe Edward did present a greater threat than we often give him credit for.
Edward is often referred to as the son of George of Clarence, but let us not forget that his maternal ancestry is no less impressive. Isabel Neville was the daughter of the infamous Kingmaker, and the house of Neville had been powerful enough to sway the Wars of the Roses in whichever direction they chose to place themselves upon. Should Edward have determined to make a claim for himself, he had deep roots of family ties to call upon that Tudor would have been challenged to compete with.
It is for this reason that Edward was initially imprisoned, despite the fact that he was a child. Henry understood that if he allowed this young man to grow and thrive, making the most of these family connections, he would almost certainly become a threat. Henry had learned many lessons from watching the houses of Lancaster and York decimate each other. One of those lessons was to not allow a seemingly innocent threat to become stronger.
York had held Henry VI of Lancaster prisoner for years before they finally put him to death and spread the story that he had died of melancholy. Richard Neville of Warwick, Edward’s grandfather, had not been able to take that step with Edward of York, and the deposed king returned from exile to have his vengeance. Henry Tudor was not going to leave room for the possibility that Edward of Warwick would become one of these stories.
Others saw a child imprisoned in the Tower, but Henry saw the last hope of York neutralized. When rumors had spread in October 1485 that Henry had been a victim of the plague, men began to proclaim Edward king. During uprisings in the spring of 1486, men were heard calling out, ‘A Warwick, A Warwick!’ Tudor had not become king when so many other men had died by ignoring clues such as these. Few would hesitate to make Edward king if Henry died early in his reign without an heir.
However, Edward was not executed at that time. Henry was content to keep him under lock and key where the boy could not become a rallying point. The king would soon discover that Edward’s physical presence was not required for his name to be utilized in the gathering of troops.
By the end of 1486, whispers of another uprising were heard, and Henry moved against the Warwick holdings. Warwick’s lands were restored to Edward’s grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, leaving Edward heir only to the Montague estates that would later be removed from him under the 1499 attainder.
When a boy who claimed to be Edward of Warwick was used to rally troops to Stoke in 1487, doubters were forced to concede that Henry’s suspicions had been well-placed. Yorkist John de la Pole certainly knew that Lambert Simnel was not the young earl, but he used him as a figurehead nonetheless. Whether de la Pole planned to stake his own claim to the crown or support the real Warwick is unknown since he died in that fateful battle.
Though he had not been involved in any way, Edward remained imprisoned. The power of his name was too much to allow him freedom. Did the boy, who would have been twelve when the Battle of Stoke occurred, have any idea what was happening in his name or any desire to press his claim to the throne?
Probably not, and Henry likely did not really think so either.
Warwick was purposefully kept not only imprisoned but undereducated. Henry had so successfully kept Edward separate from events of his early reign that he could consider reestablishing him in 1488, after what Henry would have likely seen as the last York rebellion had been safely and unequivocally put down. He did take the step of confirming Edward as Earl of Warwick in 1490, but did not go any further toward restoring the boy. Henry’s queen, Elizabeth, would never speak against her husband in public but it makes sense that she would have privately lobbied for Edward’s release.
Unfortunately for Edward, negotiations for the marriage of Henry’s heir also began about this time, and it quickly became clear that his freedom was not worth the trouble it would cause. Even if Edward had no treasonous ideas of his own – and we have no idea if he did – there would always be those to fight in his name and attempt to draw him into conspiracy and foreign powers who would doubt the strength of the Tudor claim with a York prince at large.
By the 1490s, another threat put the proverbial nail in Edward’s coffin. Initial news trickled in that another was claiming to be Edward of Warwick. The fact that Perkin Warbeck made his claim to the throne in the name of Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, would not save Edward from the repercussions of his name being tied to treason once again. This pretender was able to gain support from many European leaders, some believing his claim to be Richard and others simply wishing to provide a thorn for Henry’s side, proving to Henry that he would never be able to set Edward free.
The fight to control or capture Warbeck continued for the remainder of Warwick’s life until the two were both residents of the Tower. Did Edward truly conspire with Warbeck to escape? Was he an innocent, blindly led to his own execution? We may never know, but we do know that in name, if not in deed, Edward of Warwick was a threat to Henry Tudor. With his death, the legitimate male line of the Plantagenets was extinguished.
Margaret Pole: Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 by Hazel Pierce
Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
Elizabeth of York: A Queen and her World by Alison Weir
Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward
Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series, which begins with Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York. The second novel features the sister of Edward of Warwick in Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole. The trilogy will be complete with the release of Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.
You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, or Booklikes.